10 things you should do early in your research degree

As a first-year research student, you will be entering the unknown. However, we’ve compiled ten essential things you should do early in your research degree to relieve stress and set realistic goals.

10 things you should do early in your PhD, from keeping a diary to making a plan.

1). Make a comprehensive plan

It’s important early in your research degree to devise a realistic plan – doctoral students often find themselves stressed, overworked and eventually burned out.

Make a plan of what you want to achieve in your first year of postgraduate research, including what journals you want to read and how much of your thesis you want to write.

The same goes for your budget. Determine how much income you will have coming in and ensure you have enough to get by.

2). Keep a diary of your research

You will read so many articles, journals and books over the course of your research degree that it will be impossible to remember them all.

Keep track of your research by getting yourself a diary, where you can input topics and titles relevant to your work.

3). Choose a paper / reference manager

Furthermore, stay on top of all the papers you are reading by installing a good system, whether it’s appropriately titled subfolders on your computer or installing reference management software (BibTex, for example).

4). Set up an office space

There are a number of ways research students can stay focused while working from home, but one of the most important is to find a space that works for you.

Search for a place that's right, whether it be your bedroom or in a shared living space. Just ensure you’re able to stay motivated and, conversely, can switch off after a day of work.

5). Find a work style that suits you

As a first-year research student, there’ll be a lot of figuring out as you go. When it comes to your work style, it’s important to find a rhythm that works for you.

Does it suit you to spread your work out throughout the day? Or do you prefer an intensive few hours blasting through it?

6). Get to know your supervisor

You may have chosen your PhD supervisors or they may have been allocated to you – either way, it’s important to learn about them and their expectations.

A PhD is self-directed study, but it’s invaluable to know when the right times are you to call upon your supervisor. Do they want weekly updates and meetings? Would they rather only meet when there are results to discuss?

7). Identify key researchers in your area

It’s vital early in your research to discover the main researchers in your area so you can get a general understanding of what’s currently going on in your chosen field, as well as what needs to be done.

8). Locate important papers, conferences and journals

Additionally, pinpoint the main papers relating to your topic and do a mini literature review as soon as you can.

Look up journals and conferences that might be of interest, and make a note of the deadlines for submissions.

There are a raft of websites you can visit to find papers, from ResearchGate to BCU’s own Open Access Repository.

9). Start your abstract

Some research students are unsure about starting their abstract early, but in actual fact it’s very motivational and helps you to stay on track.     

10). Identify competitions

Depending on your area of research, there may be a number of competitions that could yield huge benefits for your study.

At Birmingham City University, our PhD students have won international research competitions and group hackathons, providing key financial backing for their work.